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William A "Bill" May "Gwekiigawbow"

May 30, 1956 ~ March 17, 2021 (age 64)


William A. “Bill” May, “Gwekiigawbow” (Standing While Looking Back), died on March 17, 2021. Bill was a very proud Member of the Red Lake Nation and greatly loved his family, children, grandchildren and extended family.

He was born on May 30, 1956, in Red Lake, MN, to Herbert “Zemo” May and Melinda May. After earning his GED, he left the reservation for three years to study at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He returned home and worked in a variety of Tribal management, youth development, entrepreneurial business, and cultural leadership positions for well over 40 years.

One of the Jobs Bill loved most was being a commercial fisherman, which he learned from his father. He developed into a highly experienced professional fisherman and respected leader at the Red Lake Fisheries Association. He was elected President of the Red Lake Fisheries by his fellow commercial fishermen and held this position for ten years. Under Bill’s leadership, the Fisheries Association had its most successful years in its history in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Throughout his many years of service to his beloved Red Lake Reservation, he became a respected Tribal Elder and Spiritual Advisor to many, due to his strong leadership, passion, positive energy, loyalty to our Reservation and his friends, and his willingness to help other people. Bill was a talented, powerful speaker and charismatic leader. This caused many people to be drawn to him, listen to him, and follow him. He was also a known jokester who loved to laugh, tease and ride his Harley.

Another one of Bill’s major impacts on our Red Lake Reservation community was his work on the Board of Directors at the Red Lake Nation College (RLNC). Bill provided the vision and leadership to help put the college on a positive path and direction over the last 14 years. Under Bill and the Board’s leadership, the Tribal College built a new campus, became accredited, and hired many highly qualified Tribal Members, staff and faculty that have taken the Tribal College to new levels of success.  Bill was named as the highly esteemed Cultural and Spiritual Advisor on the RLNC Board.

He loved speaking his Ojibwe language, was an experienced Ojibwe language practitioner, and a champion singer. He enjoyed the pow wow trail and had many friends all over the country. He helped raise funds for Suicide Awareness by organizing an annual bike rally. He belonged to the Healing Pathways Board, which does wellness research out of the University of Nebraska, and was a founding member of the Descendent Motorcycle Organization/Debwe Motorcycle Club. Bill was also a member of the Red Lake Fisheries Technical Committee, which helped transform the Red Lake Recovery in the 1990‘s and 2000’s.

Bill is survived by his loving wife of 35 years, Thelma May; children Corey May, Keith Sumner, Laurene May, William May Jr. (Holly), Star May, Justin Richey, Frank Richey, Keanna Richey, Jamison King, and special son Jeremiah Kingbird; children whom he raised Corey May Jr. and Allyssa Sumner; 30-plus grandchildren including special ones Taevah Harrison, Angelina Sumner, and his sweetheart Kaitlyn Sumner; two great-grandchildren; sisters Karen May, Carol May, Ruth Whitefeather, Laurie May, and Diana May; brother-in-law Stuart Sumner;  numerous nieces and nephews; and his Right-Hand Man Babo May.

Bill was preceded in death by his parents Melinda and Herbert “Zemo” May, parents-in-law Margaret and Henry Sumner Sr; sisters Marilyn May, Roxanne May, and Gloria May; sisters-in-law Karen Sumner and Ramona Sumner; brother Herb May; brothers-in-law Henry Sumner Jr., and Leonard Sumner.; and grandchildren Simon Pacheco, Jordan Sumner, and Samira Sumner.; and many more family members.

A wake held in the traditional Ojibwe custom will begin on Saturday, March 20, 2021, at 1:00pm at the Redby Center and will continue until the service on Monday, March 22, at 1:00pm. Adrian Liberty will serve as Spiritual Leader. Pallbearers will be Vincent May, Ethan May, Chad Rosebear, Daris Rosebear, Jordan Kingbird, Kendall Kingbird, Jason Kingbird, Robert May, Jonathon Mountain, and Trevor Lussier. Honorary Pallbearers are Floyd “Buck” Jourdain, Dan King, Tom Barrett, Jerry Morgan, Sheldon Schoenborn, Bob Smith, Keith Stately, D.M.O., and Debwe Motorcycle Club. Burial will follow in the St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Red Lake, Minnesota. The family is asking that attendees honor social distancing protocols in order to keep everyone safe; masks are required.

Arrangements are being provided by Whispering Pines Funeral & Cremation Service, Walker, MN.




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Traditional Wake
March 20, 2021

1:00 PM
Redby Community Center
Highway 1 East
Redby, MN 56670

Funeral Service
March 22, 2021

1:00 PM
Redby Community Center
Highway 1 East
Redby, MN 56670

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